Titans looking to make NWAC tracks
By Jarrid Denney | For The Register-Guard
Over the past two years, Lane Community College has steadily built up an embarrassment of riches in sprinting talent, almost entirely by word of mouth.
The success of several Titan athletes has drawn numerous others to the program, and the culmination of that recruiting process has given Lane its deepest group of men’s sprinters in school history this spring.
The Titans will enter the Northwest Athletic Conference Championships at Mount Hood Community College as heavy favorites on the men’s side Monday behind that sprint group. Lane will have a chance to win its fourth consecutive NWAC title and take one last shot at a long-standing school record.
“It’s the deepest team we’ve ever had,” Lane coach Grady O’Connor said. “We can’t be lackadaisical. . . . We are, according to the lists, very deep and very good. But this time of year we need to throw the lists out the window and just execute.”
The Titans own the four fastest times in the 100 meters, the top five times in the 200, and three of the top-five times in the 400.
Freshman Rashad Swank-Jones is fastest in the 100 and 200, and sophomore Ben Kelly owns the fastest 400 time after winning the 100 and 200 titles last year.
The school record for the 4x100-meter relay is 40.94 seconds and has stood for 33 years. The Titans have waged an all-out attack on that mark but have come up painstakingly short, posting a best of 40.95 seconds at the Oregon Relays on April 15.
“We literally couldn’t have gotten any closer to it,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of just been eating at us all year to try to get it, but I think we will get it this week with the pressure on.”
Dakarai Hightower, a third-year sophomore who won the NWAC high-jump title in 2014, will be the favorite for his second title. Hightower has a season-best mark of 7 feet, 3 inches and placed ninth at the U.S. Outdoor Championships in 2014.
Hightower also had an influence on attracting several current Titan sprinters to Lane. Kelly, as well as former Titan Brian Burt, had competed against Hightower at prep meets in Washington, and after seeing his success at Lane, they wanted in.
As Hightower said, it was a “Washington thing.”
Kelly, Swank-Jones and freshman sprinter Marcus Gaylor all competed for Washington high schools before coming to Lane.
“Dakarai’s name on the roster, among other factors, opened up the floodgates to bring in a lot of those Washington guys,” O’Connor said.
Lane will be in contention to score points in almost every men’s event. Freshman Grant Shurtliff, a former Thurston High standout, scored 10 points by winning the NWAC decathlon title on May 2-3, and he will be in contention in numerous other events this week.
Central Linn graduate Kavic Balcastro broke Lane’s record in the pole vault this spring and will be the heavy favorite. Former Sheldon High runner Ben Harter is the defending 5,000-meter champion and has the third-fastest time in the NWAC.
On the women’s side, Kylee O’Connor, another former Sheldon standout, already captured the NWAC heptathlon title and will be in the mix in the 400 meters and both hurdle events.
Another former Irish, Danielle Girard, has the fastest times in the 800 and 1,500, and is expected to be among the top scorers for the Titan women, along with O’Connor. Lane was runner-up to Spokane at last year’s championships and enters the meet slated slightly behind the Sasquatch once again.
“If anything, I think it’s kind of fuel to the team’s fire,” Girard said. “It was hard losing to Spokane last year, especially when the guys won. So I think the whole team, especially the sophomores have a lot more drive to be better this year.”